Asian-American representation in Hollywood is finally, finally having a moment. Or at least outrage over its glaring absence is.
It started after the Oscars telecast in March. While host Chris Rock railed admirably against institutional racism from within the system, he and the show’s writers made one critical mistake: They let Asian stereotypes serve as the butt of a couple jokes. Even on a show with a strong diversity message in response to #OscarsSoWhite backlash, Asians were still singled out as safe to mock. Outrage from this moment served as a spark that has now turned into a flashpoint. Asians in show business, and others on their behalf, are demanding respect and better representation in the industry.
Following the recent John Cho meme, which photoshopped the actor into all the lead roles he can’t seem to land, and a sweeping New York Times article that goes in-depth on the plight of performers like Constance Wu and Aziz Ansari, Asian rapper Dumbfoundead is riding on the momentum of this moment with a bravura music video performance.
Dumbfoundead was the subject of a recent documentary that made a splash at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. Bad Rap found director Salima Koroma following around four Asian-American rappers, including battle-legend Dumbfoundead, to explore why the hip-hop audience has largely declined to embrace them as of yet. In the new video, “Safe,” Dumbfoundead zooms out of his own struggle, tying it to that of all Asian-American entertainers, and tweaks the #StarringJohnCho meme to get the point across.
The rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Park, comes out swinging with the first line, which is a mission statement for the whole song: “The other night I watched the Oscars and the roster of the only yellow men were all statues/ We a quarter of the population there’s a room of fuckin’ 1-percenters laughing at you.” The video flits between scenes of Dumbfoundead as part of a nuclear family decked out in Mad Men-era duds, plunked down in front of the TV, and scenes of him invading what’s on that TV. Over the course of the video, he inserts himself into scenes of famous films ranging from Casablanca to Pirates of the Caribbean, and also pearly white TV shows like Friends, Full House, and The Brady Bunch.
His message, which is right there in the song’s title, “Safe,” is that Park and other entertainers fighting for respect refuse to be seen as safe to ridicule outright, safe to restrict to stereotypical roles in life and on camera, or safe to whitewash. Hopefully, soon enough the gatekeepers realize this status quo is not safe for their bottom-line either.